New Indiana restaurants taking over for local mainstays lost to the pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS — The pandemic was not kind to Indiana bars and restaurants. By this time last year, hospitality experts believed another 10% of Indiana hot spots expected to close for good. Some of those spaces are now being re-imagined.

The Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association (INRLA) says the average shelf life of a restaurant was 2.5 years before the pandemic. They say the majority of the restaurants lost to the pandemic were around for more than 15 years. These vacancies are becoming hot commodities for new concepts looking to capitalize on a previously successful space.

“This has been my dream for the longest time,” said Taelor Carmine, owner of the Thai bar and restaurant BODHI. “I had this business plan for over a year. I’ve been working in the industry for 15-16 years.”

BODHI is Carmine’s first concept. The upscale Thai spot and cocktail bar takes over the building that once housed Black Market near the Bottleworks District. Carmine has seen rampant success since moving in, and the Black Market sign is still on the wall of the building.

“Black Market was a great restaurant, and it’s nice to be able to fulfill the legacy,” said Carmine who is carrying on a legacy of her own. “My mom runs the kitchen, and my grandmother as well, so [it’s] three generational women.”

INRLA says numerous downtown restaurants have turned a profit over the last two quarters. They say the state overall is excelling compared to neighboring Midwest states.

“Restaurants were the last place people put down their phones, and they actually engaged and socially connected with individuals. People miss that,” said Patrick Tamm, president and CEO of INRLA.

The pandemic struck hard for Jesus Metlat. He owned the downtown bar Hashtag Tequila. Amidst the pandemic he was forced to close the place for good. He has since taken over the space of a Mexican restaurant on Virginia Avenue that also closed during the pandemic. His new concept is called La Eskina, which means the corner, as the spot sits on a street corner.

“We want to bring something different. A little more authentic Mexican,” said Mario Lomeli, manager of La Eskina. “He always wanted to be a part of this neighborhood in Fletcher [Place.] We have plans to try and open the second floor as well. We will have salsa classes, cooking classes, more for the community.”

La Eskina was supposed to open in mid-September but shipping delays on construction and restaurant materials have the place slated to open at the start of December.

“Every time we open the door, neighbors want to know what we are doing,” laughed Lomeli.

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